Arlene Foster claims bid to fly council Pride flag 'republican ruse to remove Union flag'
SINN Féin has described as "bizarre" a claim by Arlene Foster that a bid to fly a Pride flag at a council building was a republican ruse to remove the Union flag.
The DUP leader made the claim as she defended party colleagues in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC) for effectively blocking the erection of the rainbow flag at a council building on Saturday.
Councillors had voted to fly the flag at the weekend, to coincide with the annual Pride Day in the region, but DUP members triggered a procedural mechanism on Tuesday claiming that proper process had not been followed.
The "call-in" mechanism, which needs the backing of 15 per cent of councillors, requires officials to seek legal advice on a course of action before proceeding.
As such legal processes are not set to be completed by Saturday, it is unlikely the Pride flag will now fly.
Mrs Foster said the DUP move was not about Pride, but about concerns that the Union flag would be taken down from outside the building.
Sinn Féin dismissed the argument, highlighting there was more than one flag pole at the council.
Mrs Foster told BBC Radio Ulster: "As I understand it the issue is not about Pride, the issue is about that the policy in the ABC council is only to fly the Union flag and the Armed Forces Day flag, which of course contains the Union flag, and colleagues in ABC council area felt this was a ruse by republicans to remove our national flag, and it's not about respect or Pride at all.
"And therefore in that context I do support my colleagues in ABC council.
"We should have respect for each other but not if it's going to be used as a ruse to take down the national flag."
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said Mrs Foster's comments were "disappointing".
"Their attitude towards the LGBT community is epitomised by their disgraceful attempts to prevent the erection of a rainbow flag from a civic building and Arlene Foster's defence of that was quite frankly bizarre," she said.
The row comes weeks after Mrs Foster attended her first LGBT event.
The DUP continues to be heavily criticised by gay rights activists for its refusal to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
The party insists it is defending the "traditional" definition of marriage.
Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said: "I can't see any problem with the Pride flag being flown during Pride Week in a respectful way.
"Unfortunately, however, Arlene Foster has described the Pride flag as a threat to the Union flag.
"This is a red herring – the council uses two flag poles and the Pride flag can be flown alongside the Union flag.
"The Pride flag will be visible during Pride week across Northern Ireland as people from all walks of life celebrate diversity and call for equality."